Harry Bruins-Lich

Bruins-Lich in Venning Park

Harry Bruins-Lich in Venning Park.

Bruins-Lich embarked upon a gratifying career. He was a man with big ideas, which he wanted to convey with a minimum of paperwork, and in this he was ably assisted by JE Repton, his deputy. When he had one of his ideas - to build a waterfall, or to construct a wagon wheel 230m (754 ft) in diameter using cycads and 9 000 aloes to welcome visitors entering the city from Johannesburg - he would call Dougie Taylor, financial director, to his office, asking: ‘‘Dougie, can we do anything?”

The parks department undertook much more than today - there were always flower shows, in Pretoria and elsewhere in the country, and garden competitions to be judged, the annual Jacaranda festival, the city hall to decorate.

A highlight of his career was South Africa's first participation in an international flower show, the Floralies in Paris in 1964. No expense was spared - a Hercules plane flew 20 tonnes of dolomite rocks, a replica of the (French) Huguenot memorial at Franschhoek and stuffed antelopes and birds to France. South African plants intrigued the French - Bruins-Lich told a newspaper that some had asked him whether the protea could be cooked in the same way as globe artichoke. The success of South Africa's exhibition must've been the best 60th birthday present he could've wished for.

He led a full life, attending banquets and functions every week. ‘‘He had time for anyone who was interested in horticulture,” says his daughter Penny. He acted as consultant to the Parks Board, overseeing the landscaping of Skukuza camp in the Kruger National Park, and his assistance to the local Jewish community was rewarded with 35 trees planted in his honour in Israel.

In his free time, he would turn to: plants. He'd develop a passion for geraniums, and cultivate all kinds he could obtain, then it'd be asparagus ferns (which he exported to Australia), then it'd be lilies, or orchids. On Sunday mornings he'd take his children to go mushroom picking on the pavements of Muckleneuk, and then they'd go home and prepare a feast; he was a gourmand.

He died in April 1977 at the age of 73. A jarring coda marks the sad occasion for his children: four days after his death, someone stole over 100 of his rarest orchids from their home, including one that was flowering for the first time in 10 years. The thief was never caught.